The Green Knight

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Green Knight is the movie David Lowery was born to make. The director has never been in a hurry. Anyone familiar knows he is an artist with a propensity for leisurely-paced tales and fastidious attention to detail. He became a critical darling at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. The success led to his helming the remake of Pete’s Dragon (1977) for Disney. His 2016 reimagining was a commercial attempt whose aesthetic sensibilities bore little resemblance to the original. Next came the thoughtful though patience-testing A Ghost Story. The narrative had many reviewers listing it among their Top 10s of the year. It didn’t connect with everyone though. Yours truly found it empty and unfulfilling. Now color me surprised. The Green Knight is David Lowery’s most accomplished work. The poetic saga is a perfect marriage for the director’s meticulous skill. Fans craving a feast for the senses will be in art house heaven. All others should probably steer clear.

During a banquet in King Arthur’s castle at Christmas, an intimidating warrior on horseback enters the room. The Green Knight is an imposing figure. His skin and size more closely resembles that of a tree. The uninvited intruder challenges those present to a little game. Any opponent brave enough may strike him with his axe. If victorious, they will win the massive weapon on the condition that the Green Knight may return the blow in a year. As the King (Sean Harris) and Queen Guinevere (Katie Dickie) look on, the crowd is silent. Yet Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) wants to prove himself as a worthy Knight of the Round Table. He agrees to the task at hand knowing full well that he is bound by his promise to return in a year if he is successful. That’s the story in a nutshell. It could have been a 30 minute short. David Lowery is a master of drawing things out. Not with words but with images.

The display is a fitting presentation given the source. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a 14th-century Middle English verse by an unknown author. The King Arthur yarn follows his nephew, Gawain who assumes a challenge to demonstrate his worth and honor. The heady visual spectacle deems dialogue and plot as secondary. This is simply an adventure of self-discovery as reimagined as a series of moving paintings. An atmosphere to revel and experience rather than comprehend. Title cards in flowery Old English fonts are scattered throughout to provide some welcome structure. Gawain encounters battlefields (where the action has already ended), lush forests, and a magnificent castle. In a film all about the visual, it is a most clever and conspicuous decision to cast Dev Patel as an Arthurian knight. The colorblind casting emphasizes his smoldering emotion and physical presence as the lead. Patel is mesmerizing.

Gawain is often the only one on-screen alone with his thoughts. He along with the audience contemplates his quest. However, he does interact with others. Before embarking on his trek, we meet his mother (Sarita Choudhury), a mysterious sorceress named Morgan le Fay, and a peasant woman (Alicia Vikander), Gawain’s occasional romantic companion. On his pilgrimage, he’ll meet a ragged scavenger (Barry Keoghan) who is not to be trusted and the ghost of Saint Winifred (Erin Kellyman) who makes an unusual request. Ultimately his journey takes him to a castle where Gawain meets the seductive lady of the house (also performed by Vikander) and her seemingly good-natured and benevolent husband, the Lord (Joel Edgerton).

The account is pure cinematic fantasy. Historians have not found evidence to even substantiate the existence of King Arthur. As such, the chivalrous legend recounting the moral odyssey of a heroic knight can be vague. It doesn’t all work. The slowly building first half is more bewitching than the second. It culminates with an artistic end that is frustratingly ambiguous. The source poem leaves no doubt. Well-versed readers can fill in the blanks. The ending is far more powerful with the additional knowledge. The meditative tale rests in the exploitation of mood and feeling over action and events. It’s like a seed that grows in the mind after it has been planted. Those expecting the excitement of jousting or swordplay should look elsewhere. However, those looking for a haunting meditation that merges Christian morality with knightly chivalry will be delighted by the symbolic trek.


9 Responses to “The Green Knight”

  1. Dev Patel is one of my favorites. Since Slumdog Millionaire, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve seen him in. This movie was all about visual. I liked the scene where he is riding his horse for quite a while, but the cinematography was so beautiful, so I didn’t mind it. True, this isn’t for everyone, but I enjoyed it. Love the line “It’s like a seed that grows in the mind after it has been planted”. So true. 4 ⭐️

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh, Good! I’m glad you liked it. This is one I’ve been waiting for. It sounds unique.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. First four-star review of the year?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Sal U. Lloyd Says:

    So they have this guy going up against a ten-foot tall green-painted Groot and this is supposed to be an art house film!!! LOL

    Well, at least it’s not as bad as “Ghost Story”


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